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Community Advocacy Organization

Former MSU Executive Chef overcomes adversity to create distinct local plant-based eatery, Veg Head

Kristen Freeman, Chronicle News Image

Downtown Lansing, Mich.- Kari Magee, notable area chef, opened Lansing's only plant-based eatery, Veg Head, in October of this year. With the support and shared vision of her business partner, Shawn Elliot, the two have collwctively made this concept come to life.

During our interview, steady streams of people flowed in for the dinner hour, seated along exposed brick walls, rich in character, with views of handcrafted murals and canvases filled with art by some of the area’s creatives, including Mila Lynn.

Housed in one of the Ranney buildings owned by Elliot, some parts of the space had gone untouched since the 1940s, prior to renovations made in 2005- a project to create residential apartments. Veg Head gifts the structure a second life and a fresh breath.

When Magee reflected on how their vision came together, they said “Everything (about Veg Head) was very intentional. It was so amazing to be able to do that, to be able to create this space for others. Veg Head is different. It brings in so many different people, different energy.”

mural by Mila Lynn

Magee spent 10 years as Michigan State University’s Executive Chef of Retail (second woman in the role in the school's history)- overseeing athletic events, the food court, concessions and more. When Elliot approached her with a blueprint of this plant-based restaurant concept in 2021, Magee was willing to a huge leap into the unknown. Being a chef, entrepreneur and restauranteur does not come without its immense challenges. Atop of leaving a comfortable position and branching out as an independent chef, Magee also went through a divorce to begin 2022.

They said, “Every time you do something big, what meets you first at the door is fear.” Of their challenges in opening up Veg Head, enduring the divorce and coming out as part of the LGBTQIA+ community (2014), they reflected, “You have to be authentic to yourself no matter what the cost. That is how I have learned my voice.”

Even through that fear and uncertainty, Magee has held onto the original vision and purpose: provide access to yummy, vegan-friendly food to their community. We discussed how plant-based diets are naturally less inflammatory, as the usual allergens, like dairy and eggs, are conceptually absent. For example, Veg Head’s Mac and Cheese substitutes heavy creams and cheeses for nurtured root vegetables that provide the same nostalgic richness and comfort most of us have grown to enjoy.

“I discovered how much better I felt personally and the energy that I had. I wanted to start shifting people's thoughts on vegan food, the food they put into their bodies and the impact on other beings. I found that there were not many options in my city and that started the seeds of Veg Head. I wanted a space where people could come and try food that was great tasting and also vegan. I've always had the mind set of- if you want something to change, go and change it. It became a place for me where passion and purpose aligned." They added, "Also, people who have dairy allergies can come here and enjoy (Mac and cheese).”

Magee first began their own vegan journey in 2019 after attending a food conference in Idaho. There, they met the corporate chef at Google who mentioned a plant-based training that he was collaborating on with other nationally-renowned chefs.

Magee spent the next year under his mentorship, personally adhering to a plant-based lifestyle. They have not turned back since. After adopting veganism, Magee brought awareness and consciousness to the MSU campus, demonstrating to student-athletes new ways to prepare food without using animal products. They also started an initiative to provide plant-based options at Spartan Stadium and Breslin Center during sporting events.

“I feel better than ever. I did not know some things were an allergic reaction, like skin irritations and bloating, until I started to eat plant-based. I feel more….clear, like mentally, I am more present. Before my journey, I had more times when I felt tired and foggy.”

Just one year after studying plant-based diets and foods, Magee went to Detroit and took the gold medal in a cooking competition certified by the American Culinary Federation. This was a professional milestone that showed the entire state of Michigan that crafted, thoughtful plant-based food can be delicious and even win up against meat.

Magee said, "I had one hour to make four plates, got scored for every detail and then presented in front of master chefs. And, I got a gold medal! I was so proud of myself, and I knew in that moment I could do anything."

Magee started cooking to get through university while studying art. Their passion was sparked by humble beginnings working at a simple pizza place in Olivet, Michigan. Eventually, they decided to discontinue formal schooling and take their creativity to the plate, through food.

Magee said, "Really, what I do is art on a plate."

In their early 20s, Magee moved to the United Kingdom. They spent time residing in England and Wales where they found inspiration in the kitchen next to influential people who taught them traditional Welsh preparations and farm-to-table techniques. Magee learned more about food, refining their craft in the kitchen while also managing the dinner services.

It has taken a great amount of determination and "self-work" as Magee said to get to this point. Veg Head is expected to get more busy and expand into other areas of the state as it is being built for franchise in the future. Veg Head just recently catered one of Governor Whitmer's events. In addition to events, VegHead also has a pre-order holiday menu for your seasonal parties gatherings and family dinners. All orders must be placed by Dec. 20.

Writer's opinion: Even as a person who eats meet, I enjoyed their food. It was absolutely delicious, and we will be back!

Catered governor

“We have space to cater larger events”

“We have hosted and catered a holiday party”

“We are working to cater weddings and some events for bands.”



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